My background is in theater. I was a drama major in college who started out as an actor and quickly discovered that I also loved to direct.
After I graduated, I went in search of lots of theater to work on. I quickly found myself directing friends’ plays and also acting in plays for theater festivals and readings all over the city. I was proud of my efforts, even when they took up all my time and didn’t pay anything. Sometimes I would get what’s called a ‘stipend,’ which is a small amount of honorary money for my time and effort. Usually, no money would be involved at all- other than the money I spent out of my own pocket on the production. I balanced my paying job (working tradeshows) with working on as much theater as I could fit into the crevices of my time off.
Sometimes I would turn down paid tradeshow work because I was in the middle of rehearsals for a production I was directing. The irony of this is that I could sometimes make the equivalent of my entire directors stipend in one day of work at my ‘real job.’
But I found it hard to prioritize tradeshows because theater was my ‘true passion’ and what I ‘really did’…tradeshow work was just a filler job. Theater became this magical universe where being paid a decent rate for your time became something of a joke, and everyone just moaned ‘there’s no money in theater, we need donations’ and continued on.
Then there came a time a few years ago where I reached my breaking point. I needed to put more money towards my student loans and stop turning down paid work. I couldn’t work for free anymore. So I took a hiatus from theater. The hiatus has been going on for about 2 years now…in fact, I’m still on that hiatus.
Amazingly, I’ve been pretty happy during this time off. I still co-run a theater company, so I keep a bit of theater in my life, and I’ve been able to work as much as I can and not double book paid jobs with unpaid rehearsals. I really enjoy my career in tradeshows, so I’m happily going through my days. Things are good, but I sometimes wonder about my real passion.
Now that I’m thirty, I’ve been thinking a lot about paid ‘filler’ work versus unpaid passions. There are so many options here. I kind of turned my ‘filler’ work into my main work, but I could have attempted to monetize my passion. Contrary to what I might have you believe from this post, there are people making some money from theater or theatrical work. And there are lots of people who work on all sorts of passion projects that can be monetized, but haven’t been monetarily figured out yet.
Then there are other friends of mine who know there’s very little money in their passion projects, but are okay with that. When I asked my friend how he replies to people who question his choice to be a playwright even though there’s just about no money in it, he inspired me. He said, “I tell them that I’ve worked lots of jobs that paid me tons of money and none of them made me as happy as I am writing plays. Not everything is about money.”
There’s a lot to think about here.